It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Power struggles and cookie crumbs

We are in a coffeeshop. (Of course we are!) Where else do I ever take these children? Because it’s for their socialization, it’s for their betterment. It’s very important that children learn to sit in one spot for 20 minutes, to observe without touching, to talk without shouting.

It’s also very important that Mary get out in adult environments at least once a week. The coffee is secondary.

So we have two complimentary agendas happening here. That’s okay. What is NOT okay, of course, is an adult who puts their own need — to have an near-adult experience — above the comfort of the other patrons (who also desire the same thing) when the child(ren) accompanying them are in no way ready to sit calmly for the required 20 minutes. That’s just selfish. And rude. If your child is being disruptive, you peel out of there as quickly and graciously as humanly possible.

So there.

This does not mean you’ll have to keep out of coffeeshops until said child is school age. A child of any age can manage this — not every day, and the younger they are the more you have to pick your moment — but it’s eminently do-able. And I aim for 20 minutes. Thirty, tops. That’s reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect a toddler to rein in their energy for a solid hour. (If you have one that will do that, count your lucky stars. You are blessed.)

So, anyway. Insufferable lecture over. Coffee shop. Sitting, talking at normal conversational volumes, eating (with mouths closed about 25% of the time; acceptable).

Malli, who does not have a huge sweet tooth, puts a good-sized chunk of her cookie back on the plate in the centre of the table.

“Are you done?”
“Are you sure? You don’t want any more cookie?”
“No. I don’t want it.”
“You really don’t want it? You’re all done?”
“Okay. I’m going to give it to Anna, then, because she dropped her cookie.”

She did, and she was very good about it, too, but she’s long done the tiny bit that remained, and has been chatting while watching the other children finish theirs. Now, I know Malli has said she does’t want it. She’s been very clear about that. But I start the mental countdown anyway. Three … two … one … wait for it …

“Hey! That’s MINE! She got MINE!”

(Was this predictable? Hoo, yeah. But does she really want it? No. I know this girl. She doesn’t want resolution, she doesn’t want the cookie. She wants a conflict. She wants a conflict because, even though she didn’t want that cookie, she feels a proprietary interest in it, and she’s pissed that she gave it up. She wants a conflict so she can express her outrage. Resolution? Cookie? Not on the agenda. Just you watch.)

“Oh, you want some? You can have a piece.” I smile, because I know, I just know …

NO.” The glower could freeze water at ten paces. Good thing my coffee’s nice and hot.

“Okay. You don’t want any more cookie. That’s fine.” I smile again. I take an unholy glee in pissing off control-freak kids. I really do. I probably shouldn’t enjoy it quite so much, but it gives my smile that much extra voltage, knowing that she doesn’t want me to smile. I’m supposed to be coaxing her to be happy. “Oh, come on, honey. You know you didn’t want it.” But I don’t enter into Power Struggles unless essential, even when issued a gold-plated invitation.

Refused an overt Power Struggle, she settles back with the Glower of Ice. At least it’s quiet. I turn my attention to more deserving behaviours, chatting with the other children, being particularly warm and inviting, hoping that Malli will be drawn in despite herself. If often works.

And when I turn back? She’s leaning towards Anna, delicately and thoroughly gleaning cookie crumbs off her sweater. And eating them.

WHAT a kid.

November 28, 2007 - Posted by | behavioural stuff, Malli, Mischief, outings, power struggle


  1. “She wants a conflict so she can express her outrage.”

    Bahahaha, sounds like me when I’m PMSing. Good thing my Hubby knows me as well as you know Malli. 😛

    Comment by Sheri | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. Heh. Pumpkinpie has been trying to create little situations where I’m supposed to fight her or coax her in order to draw out her bedtime, too. Pushing me away while I am delivering her kisses or throwing up her arms to avoid the pats she wants. But my, “Oh, you don’t want kisses? Okay, I’ll just go now, then.” quickly turns it into, “Noooo, I want kisses!” Funny things, they are.

    And I was also one to inhabit a coffee shop for half an hour EVERY DAY of the year I was home. It was my little slice of time. I would walk Pumpkinpie until she fell asleep, then scoot into the shop and read for a blessed 20-30 minutes until she woke. Then we’d sit for about 15 minutes more before heading out. It really is necesary.

    Comment by kittenpie | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  3. That is hysterical. I’m not sure she knows what she wants

    Plus I want to print this and post as what to do in a power struggle with child.

    Comment by Dani | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  4. Mali sound EXACTLY like Maya, and you sound just like me. That makes my day. Now, if I could just get my husband to internalize the power of NOT responding in an angry way. He’s great, but not quite at the level of Zen this kid requires.

    Kittenpie, that sounds like how Maya and I ate out a LOT during our first two years (while I was a single mom). The beautiful part is that now, at 3, she can sit for 2-3 hours in a fancy-schmancy restaurant without problem. My in-laws were blown away, and I tried hard to not burst with pride. Exposing kids to being “out” is a must!

    Sheri, OMG. Just yesterday, I realized that my new-found pregnancy hormonal moodiness makes me act EXACTLY like Maya when she’s in a snit. Talk about humbling…

    Comment by Allison | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  5. I’m predicting that one of my girls is going to be a drama queen. Let’s hope I’m wrong! I love taking the toddler out to cafes. He’s very indignant when he doesn’t get a babycino. Lucky for me, that’s usually all he asks for, so I don’t have to share my cake. 😀 We’ve also taken him to dinner at restaurants. For the most part, he’s done well. (Although there was that one “Child-friendly” place where I was told the restaurant wasn’t a daycare. The steam, it came out of my ears.)

    Comment by Kat | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  6. Once again, I am admiring how well you handle these things. I absolutely agree with you about NOT keeping a misbehaving, disruptive child in a mostly-adult setting – but at the same time, they won’t learn NOW to behave in that setting without being brought into it, regularly, and practicing.

    Comment by Florinda | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  7. Sheri: She loves to play Power Struggle, this one. She tries to set one up several times a day. She’s learning, though, that I don’t often agree to play Power Struggle, but when I do? I win.

    Kittenpie: Smart of you to recognize that ploy for what it is, and turn the tables on her. Coax-and-plead is a very tedious toddler game. For the adult — the tot can play it seemingly without end.

    I love the coffee shop. And I love that these kids do so well in them, for my sake, for theirs, and for the professional satisfaction it gives me. They’re just so damned cute, all gathered around the table.

    Dani: The key is to NOT pick up the other end of the rope, in a way that preserves your self-esteem, and your authority.

    “Not picking up the rope” is not the same as caving, though many parents think they’re refusing to indulge a power grab when really they are only bowing to it. The art of parenting comes in discerning the difference.

    Allison: I’d be pleased to go to a coffee shop with you and Maya. This is NOT something I say to just any mother and child! Does Maya know yet that she’s getting a sibling?

    Kat: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you re: the potential drama queen. But Malli? She is a complete and utter drama queen, and she does fine in coffee shops. With a little deft handling, and you have the parent skills to manage her, I’m sure!

    Florinda: …they won’t learn hOW to behave in that setting without being brought into it, regularly, and practicing. That’s why I keep taking them out. Well, one of the reasons!

    Before I take them anywhere, though, I make sure that they have adjusted to my role as “the boss”. I need to know they can be trusted to listen and do as directed at home, before I trust them to do the same in a public environment. That means that when I’m integrating a new child, we tend not to go anywhere beyond the park for three weeks or so, till we’ve all sussed each other out!

    Comment by MaryP | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  8. I learned about this one years ago. It goes like this,
    ” have you finished that cookie?”
    “are you sure? You don’t want any more”
    “no, I’m full”
    “You give it to child B then”
    “here you are child B, have my cookie. I’m a vbery nice friend/sister/cousin aren’t I Mary?”
    “yes sweetie, you are very kind and good at sharing. well done”

    Everyone happy:-)

    It nearly always works. even on the little ones. Even on Mstr A!!!

    Comment by Juggling mother | November 29, 2007 | Reply

  9. Despite the continual trying though, Mstr A still can not sit in an adult environment for more than 5 mins tops:-( I often have to hotfoot it outta there asap. Although now he is bigger, I often make him sit outside until he can behave for another five minutes. This does get some very disapproving stares from people entering the premisis though:-) And I have to stay within leaping distance so that whenever some “kindly” soul stops to take him off to social services/lost children I can stop them! I am a baaaaaad mother;-)

    Comment by Juggling mother | November 29, 2007 | Reply

  10. I check this site all the time, hoping for guidance on the power struggle between my 3yr old son and…. his daycare provider. She is a terrific caregiver but hard for me to read– doesn’t have much natural change of expression. Anyway, I get that he needs to show respect for the rules of her house, especially those that deal with safety, but she seems to be testing him all the time lately to “see if he will listen”. Does he say hello as soon as he comes in the door? Look her in the eyes when he does it? How about the husband, does he greet him too? And if not — this all happens within two minutes of our coming in the door — she sighs & rolls her eyes in my direction: “it’s just so frustrating when he tunes me out!” I think he’s worked out that she’s testing him and is refusing to take the tests. What would you do? Do you think a 3year old needs to, or can, learn to be polite on that level?

    Comment by Dee | November 29, 2007 | Reply

  11. JM: That’s my usual tactic, but I’ve dispensed with it with Malli because, upon suggesting that someone else might benefit from it, she’ll immediately cram it into her mouth. And then hold it there, because she really didn’t want it. After a while, she spits it out. I won’t tell you what I think of that, but I think you can guess …

    Dee: The short answer to your question is yes. A three-year-old can learn to greet someone and make eye contact while doing so. Do they need to be learning this? Yes. It will stand them in very good stead: people throughout their lives will respond to them more warmly, without necessarily being conscious of why they warm to him more than the other kid/teen/adult who doesn’t do this. So, yes, it’s a useful life skill, and social three is a great time to start learning it.

    However, at three, they’re just starting to learn it. Some children do it naturally, but most don’t. I don’t expect a child to be able to do it without assistance, and I certainly don’t see their ommission of the greeting and/or eye contact as deliberate “tuning out” (unless I see them do it routinely with others). Rather, it’s just one of those things you encourage, gently, at every appropriate opportunity.

    So, upon arrival, I get down to the child’s eye level, I smile and say, “Hello, Ryan.” And Ryan usually responds with a smile and a hello. Since I’ve looked at them, the eye contact is a given. (Does your caregiver get down on her knees to greet him, or does she expect him to look up at her? I always get down on their level, which makes the eye contact much more natural — and almost inevitable. I then crane my neck to speak to the parent, but at this point, the child is my focus. Greeting him/her is my job; the parent is merely the chauffeur! 🙂 I focus on the parent only after I’ve greeted the child.)

    In fact, eye contact is more of an issue at goodbyes. You say goodbye, and child calls it over their shoulder as they head out the door. Generally the parents will stop the child and say, “Look at Mary when you say goodbye, honey.”

    Simple, easy, gentle, friendly. But do I expect them to remember this all, every time, without reminders? Not really.

    Comment by MaryP | November 29, 2007 | Reply

  12. Aw, shucks. Love fest!

    Maya does know about the baby coming along, but until it actually happens, she has no idea how much her world’s about to be rocked. Along with that, it’s looking more and more likely we’ll be in Vienna before the end of December — talk about a lot of change for a 3 year old!

    Anyway, she often asks to say hi to “her” baby, then pulls up my shirt/down my pants so she can nuzzle the baby. Or blow in his “face” (a new game with her). Other days, she pulls her own shirt up and talks about how she has a baby in her tummy too. I’m still pretty optimistic that she’ll do okay being at least in the house (if not in the room) when he’s born.

    Comment by Allison | November 29, 2007 | Reply

  13. Allison: Not surprising the girl is prepared yet unprepared: Until it actually happens the first time, the parents have no idea how much their world will be rocked! And even with the second, there are big adjustments (mostly in the form of guilt: “My GOD. What have I done to my oldest child??”)

    My children were present at their younger siblings’ births. It was amazing all round.

    Comment by MaryP | November 29, 2007 | Reply

  14. I just came back to read the comments on this post. I’m so glad to hear that eye contact is something that toddlers have to learn. I was getting concerned that the toddler can’t sustain eye contact (ADD! Autism! Run-of-the-mill shiftiness!) and I’ve been insisting on it recently. All I can say is, Phew!

    Comment by Kat | December 2, 2007 | Reply

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